growing up

Better Late Than Never

Hi.

It’s been a while.

As is tradition right before the new year, I abandoned all self-made promises, and made tons of excuses as to why. “I’m taking a break from writing–I mean, I wrote a novel.” “It’s so cold outside, and I was sick, so of course I couldn’t run.” “I haven’t blogged in forever, I can’t just sit down and start again, I need to explain why.” “I have so much work to do!”

All lies, for the record. Or, perhaps excuses is a better umbrella to put them under. I come from the school of thought (and the place of privilege) that you make time for the things you love, things you’re passionate about. And I haven’t made time. I have procrastinated (I just watched through the entire Lizzie Bennet Diaries again) and pushed everything I ought to do to the perpetual “tomorrow morning.” I have argued circumstance and life situation (sickness and NaNoWriMo shouldn’t get in the way), and everything a serial procrastinator has up their sleeve. I can run circles around things I need to do—it’s a gift.

But no more. It’s a new year, and while I’m kind of against sweeping life statements (despite the fact that I make them quite often), I might as well get into the spirit of self-improvement. No goals this month, just… hopes. As you might know from previous entries, I’m a pretty big fan of forgiveness, especially when it comes to yourself. And while the new year is a great time for becoming the better you, it’s also important to remember that you are only human. Trying to become the super human version of yourself will only bring you disappointment. So rather than steadfast resolutions, let’s talk about hopes for the new year. Let’s talk about all the ways we can find happiness.

Yesterday morning, over toast and scrambled eggs, my best friend read last year’s hopes aloud. Rather than writing down all the ways she should improve or change, she’d decided to list all the things she could do for a fuller life—a happier existence.

So let that be your challenge. Even if it is the second of January—no one says you can’t begin something new any time you want. Write out a list of things you can do this year to improve your overall happiness. And check them off as you fulfill them. Whether it is greater forgiveness, walks in the park, drinking more tea, visiting friends, road trips, readings, finding religion. Improve your life, but don’t forget to take time to enjoy it along the way.

And welcome back to Staving Off Disaster. I’ll be here all year.

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Grace for Growing

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It’s time we talked about failure. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a bit sporadic with my posts lately, falling into a trap of excuses that, if I were more put together, I wouldn’t have. I’d have scheduled blog posts, prewritten content, woken up early, worked for every hour of the day. But I am not that person, and while perhaps I dream about one day being her, I have to accept who I am here and now. I must allow myself the grace to fail, to admit defeat, and begin again.

Let’s look at the last round of goals. September’s action list:

-Wake/get out of bed on first alarm

Keep apartment relatively clean; do dishes immediately, pick up after myself, scoop litter boxes

Continue Couch to 5K program

-Do at least three adult tasks (appointments, phone calls, emails) a week

Write/research for 2 hours every weekday

Continue blogging every weekday

-At least three job applications out every weekday

-At least one long-lost phone call a week

Five hours of reading a week

-At least one short story/poetry submission out this month

Say yes

Limits:

-Two spoken/written complaints a week

So, I didn’t do terribly. Last Wednesday I actually finished Couch to 5K, and I’ve now started on 5k to 10k. I’ve blogged pretty consistently (up until the last few weeks), and I’ve done well at maintaining a clean apartment, and I’ve been reading pretty much nonstop (everyone should read Cinder!). After a few set backs I’ve been fighting an uphill battle on the job front (jobs I’m qualified for are flooded with applications, and jobs I’m under-qualified for write me off quickly), but I’m attempting to turn that around and follow leads, get some temping in. Plus, I’m well into 14,000 words for NaNoWriMo (today’s word count goal is 10,000), so I’m definitely doing something with my days. Surprisingly, I haven’t been watching that much TV. Having daily goals (that can’t be procrastinated–no one wants to write 3,334 words in one day) has really helped me to prioritize. All in all, despite still being unemployed, I’m going to call this round a success. While I didn’t achieve all of my goals, I’m some big leaps past who I was a few months ago. I’m learning about myself, my limits, my abilities, my talents. We’re calling it a win.

Now for November’s action list:

-Win NaNoWriMo (and complete novel even if it runs past the the 30th)

-Continue 5k to 10k training

-Complete at least one adult task (appointments, etc) a week

-Wake up on first alarm

-At least one long lost phone call a week

-Short story submission out

-Get a source of income (temping, freelance)

-Get outside every day

Limit:

-Don’t throw away any produce

I always buy so much produce (vegetarian), and almost every week I throw a decent portion of it out. Even if I don’t feel like eating it, time to get over it! No more throwing away food.

How have your goals been going? Are you getting any closer to your Future Self?

Get Angry

“All passion is founded on pain, grown through risk, and marked by the decisions we make in the face of tragedy. Tragedy introduces us to ourselves, to our deepest passions, to what it is that receives either our yes or our no.”

-Dan Allender, To Be Told

So I currently have a friend studying for her MA in counseling at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. And since we love discussing everything from Lost theories to philosophical and biblical debates, I’m pretty much getting a free, second-hand education every time we talk on the phone. It’s really quite wonderful. One of my friend’s teachers is the (rather profound) Dan Allender—a renowned Christian therapist and author of The Wounded Heart. Allender’s focus is on sexual abuse and trauma recovery. I’ve watched several of his interviews and keynotes, at the prompting of my friend, and I’ve certainly not been disappointed. Start here and here if you’re interested. What this man has to say is not only thought-provoking, but comforting.

Recently, my friend and I have discussed the question of anger, and its purpose in our lives. I, like many people, have struggled with anger—seeing it as a negative emotion to be squashed as soon as possible. Anger is something toxic and dangerous, an emotion we should avoid. We do exercises to quell it, count to ten, practice yoga, breathe and breathe and breathe. But what if there is more to anger? What if there is a guide, a map, within the fury? What if your anger is telling you something?

Do an experiment with me. Think about the world we live in. Think about your daily commute, the news you watch, the places you’ve been, the heartache you’ve witnessed and experienced. What upsets you? What makes you stand up, a scream building in your gut, a rage so intense it feels like being stranded in a storm?

For some it could be pretty literal. After doing this experiment, I found my rage building over issues like transphobia, racism, and sexism. I start screaming about privilege, about the pain others experience, of not being able to know the heart of someone else’s struggles. I get riled up about injustice.

You, for example, might find something less literal. Does it infuriate you when someone is dishonest? When people take advantage of you or others? When people manipulate? Does it break your heart to see cancer, rape, violence, the devastation of drugs?

“For each of us, there is a problem in this world that is meant to first bring us to tears and intensify our anger and then bring joy to our soul when it is even temporarily subdued.”

What makes you angry? What is calling you, from deep within, to right the wrongs? What is your narrative? What pain and heartache have brought you to this moment, this person, this self? Use your anger, let it guide you to your passion, your suffering. Let yourself be led by your rage.

You won’t be disappointed.

“Our deepest dreams are always about righting wrong and growing good. It’s that simple. What wrong are you meant to stop? What good are you uniquely designed to grow? We are not meant to be happy when we reach a personal goal unless that dream is attached to the greater good of others.”

What Is “Self?”

Before sitting down the write this post, I questioned my authority on finding self, and if I have the right, as an unemployed, confused 25-year-old to shed light on something so profound and deep as self. Before we go any further I should confess something—I’m not sure I’ve actually found myself yet.381920_10150404579831314_644870192_n

I come from a long line of selves built in chaos, in quicksand. My family is no stranger to tragedy—my mother suffered through two funerals (her sister’s and her father’s) during her pregnancy with me—we take emotional blows like seasoned boxers. We roll back our shoulders, and stand up for more hits. My own parents are both deceased…

I had the great pleasure of guest blogging for Moving Peaces‘ series on Finding Self. The post, about finding self in the midst of tragedy and chaos, went up on Saturday, and you can read the rest here.

Be Brave

Shanna Murray, 2012

One of the terrifying things about life is the rhythm. How it seems to fall into moments of stasis, of paralysis.

For me the stasis has never really meant contentedness, or calm. It’s felt like dreaming of running, and knowing your legs won’t move. Of waking up flailing, only to realize no progress has been made. It is a paralysis built on fear of complacency, of settling. It is a fear built on not making something of my life.

For a long time I built my life on cause and effect. Tragedy and heartbreak were stepping stones, path marks on the trail to a person exponentially better than I was, am. When my father died, I built a world of purpose, of consequence, of destiny. My thirteen-year-old self argued, to make sense of the chaos, that this all happened for a reason. I struggled through this disaster because something better was coming. And the scales had to be set right again. I had to lose in order to gain.

Ten years later, I wrote in my mother’s eulogy,

I am not one who thinks that everything happens for a reason. I simply cannot… It is my belief, however, that we make the reason. We give meaning to disaster, we create ourselves in hardships, we decide what comes from death.

I have spent the last three years of my life attempting to make sense of tragedy. Of creating something out of chaos, of turning pain into something beautiful. I am a writer, I argue, because of my hardships. I cannot let disaster and heartache be meaningless, I have to prescribe it meaning. I cannot put it away, let the dust pile on it, let it be forgotten. I must make something of it. I must do it justice, put the cause and effect into the narrative, fill in the backstory of my main character, grow her into something you deem real.

I am still in stasis. I am terrified of standing on the cavern of the world and looking down to my dirty feet and seeing the nothingness below them. I worry that I will never tear through the cellophane emotions, never find the effect in the rhythm, never feel the release of the constant inhale. I wonder if the prescribed meaning is too literal, too neatly packaged. I look again at the accidental structures built after the collapses and wonder if they are just as detrimental, just as false.

I pray for the exhale. I pray for the day when paralysis breaks, like ice melting, and I shake off the past selves like spring shakes off winter. I pray for the release, the meaning, the clarity.

Until then, I continue through the chaos. And I am brave.

In Defense of the Dance Party

Some days just suck. It’s unavoidable. You miss your alarm, you’re out of milk, your car gets parked in, you spill coffee all down your front, you leave work at the worst of rush hour. Somedays the suck just stacks, threatening to drown you in the misery of the day that you can’t seem to escape.

In case you’re wondering, my day sucked. I got turned down for yet another job I interviewed for, got blisters on my feet from walking in flip flops, woke up later than I wanted to. I’m sitting down to write this blog post at ten o’clock at night, and all I’ve done today is make apple crisp. I don’t know if we can call this day a success in the big book.

I’d rather not wallow in the misery today. I’ve done that, and while it’s all well-and-good, I’ve finally put a veto on listening to Keaton Henson and staring at the ceiling. To combat the blues, I’ve decided to make a fool of myself. And have my own personal dance party.

1. Left Hand Free – Alt-J

2. The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson

3. Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club

4. Everyone Knows Everyone – The Helio Sequence

5. Holding Out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler

6. Cold War – Janelle Monáe

7. I’ll Be Alright – Passion Pit

8. Happy with Me – HOLYCHILD

9. Golden Years – David Bowie

10. How You Like Me Now – The Heavy

11. 100$ Bill – Jay-Z

12. Maneater – Nelly Furtado

13. Right Here, Right Now – Fatboy Slim

14. The Queen and I – Gym Class Heroes

15. Jungle – X Ambassadors, Jamie N Commons

16. Easy (Switch Screens) – Son Lux ft. Lorde

17. Le Disko – Shiny Toy Guns

As always, this playlist is available on Youtube and Spotify.

What are your dance-it-out jams? Talk to me in the comments!

And, just for good measure, let’s bring back this piece of “art.” The Rhys and Miles Virtual Dance Party:

I’m Taking It

A few weeks ago I complained about titles, and tried to decide if I could call myself a runner. Shortly after posting the article, my cousin sent me this:

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I think that quite succinctly put my fear to rest. So I’m taking it. I’m going to call myself a runner.

Last week I ran all five weekdays (I know, right?!), totaling close to 14 miles for the week. With the help of Zombie’s, Run! and the strange motivation of actually enjoying running (I hear you, I also have NO IDEA WHO I AM RIGHT NOW), I wanted to run every day. I wanted to test myself, find my limits and use running as an escape. I have always wanted to be the person who goes for a run because they need to clear their head (a romantic notion), and while I’m nowhere close to drowning out the chorus of “we are your lungs, and you are trying to kill us,” I’m close to something resembling calm when I’m on a run. I’ve fleshed out plot lines for my book, dealt with stress of job hunting, and acted out verses of a few Britney Spears hits. I’m getting to a point where putting on my running shoes, stretching, jumping down the stairs and letting my feet hit the pavement is freeing. I love the feeling of running past people, I smile at strangers, I do a few extra dance moves for kicks. I want to cheer on fellow runners as though we’re all in our first marathon. I love feeling ready to quit and thinking “just to that tree, now that rock, now that mailbox, now that trash can, now the end of the block.”

I am ready to call myself a runner. I don’t have the proper shoes, my $13 sports bras are from Target, and I don’t know the first thing about compression socks. I haven’t finished a race, I’m by no means seasoned, and my form is far from perfect. But I’m taking the title.

I am a runner.

Thursday Three: Outlooks

These last few weeks have been filled with lots of high and lows. I’ve had interviews and rejections, leads and false starts. It’s not easy realizing you’re pretty unqualified for most jobs, especially when you know you could pull them off. It’s been a tough sprint, but I’m trying to remain optimistic.

1. Homemade brunch with friends is wonderful. Yesterday I had the pleasure of entertaining my old college roommate, Erica, for brunch. We made chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs, mimosas, and coffee, and tea from Ricky’s gaiwan. And we talked. I love spending time with Ricky, because we’ve grown into socially aware individuals on pretty separate paths. But when we sit down to chat we fill the silence with stories and shared passions. We discuss the nuances of growing in our communities and our families. It is always a blessing to be in her company.

2. Rejections come in bundles. Today I got turned down for a job that I interviewed for (that makes four rejections this week alone). But I also had a freelance blog post accepted, and was invited to interview for another job I applied to ages ago. I’ve thought a lot about perspective today, and wondered if the negative at all clouds the positive. After a 3.7 mile run today, I’m going to say that the perspective is in my control. Failures don’t negate achievements. (Now ask me again when my rent check is due…)

3. Having something to look forward too will save you. Lots of things are coming up this season, and most of them come faster than you expect (I’m looking at you, Christmas). With the impending terror of the holidays, it is good to have something else to look forward to. For me, it’s NaNoWriMo. I’ve decided to have a launch party, celebrate the craziness of the month. I’ve also got lots of plans with friends in the next month, and I’m hoping these things will help me stay balanced. That, and the kitten snuggles I get to have every day I spend at home. That’s lovely too.

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Am I a Runner? A Lesson in Backtracking

If you’re any sort of creative, you’ve likely heard the speech about owning your title. “I’m not really a painter,” you say. “It’s just a hobby.” And you’re not a painter, because you don’t believe it—you won’t add the identity to your own. For years I never referred to myself as a writer. I thought I could have the title once I published something, once someone told me I was a writer, once I had a completed novel to send out. Up until someone else validated it, I wasn’t really a writer, just a faker with some creative ideas.

I feel the same way about being a runner. I haven’t yet accepted the title of runner. I’m waiting to finish a 5k, to finally invest in real running shoes, for a friend to casually drop the word while we’re out. I want someone else to give me the title, when it really won’t mean anything until I give it to myself.

This week I decided to backtrack in my Couch to 5K journey. After two weeks of failing to run for the full 25-28 minutes, I decided it was time to get some wins under my belt—even if I’d already achieved them. So I took it a step back a few weeks, and returned to running with breaks. On Monday I ran for five minutes, walked for three, ran for eight, walked for three, and ran for another five. And while it sort of felt like a failure to have to try again, the real failure would have been listening to that skank in my head who keeps saying “just quit—you’re not a runner.” So I got some good music, did a little dancing, and felt great. I did two ten minute runs on Wednesday, and again felt great. Music got me pumped (Sia’s Chandelier makes me look like a GLORIOUS IDIOT—1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, DRINK!—hand motions and all), and the weather kept me sane. Today I ran for the 22 straight minutes again in the terrible cold (46?? SNOW IN THE FORECAST? I hate you Minnesota), and felt surprisingly great. I even kept running after the stop time. I kept a 10:16 pace today, which is a step down from days past, but I’m calling it a win. I’m not overexerting myself, I actually enjoyed running.

I don’t know if I feel comfortable accepting the title of runner yet. At this point, I’m a little worried if I call it out too soon, I’ll spook it, like a scared rabbit. That just as quickly as I’ve started running, I’ll stop. I know it seems ridiculous, but I’ve begun and quit enough things (I’m a poet, I’m a pianist, I’m a playwright!), that I want to careful with what I commit to. So perhaps it isn’t now that I call myself a runner. But maybe, someday, I’ll find the title at the end of the block.

5 Secrets to Living in a Terrible Apartment

It’s no secret to most people that know me, but I live in what I lovingly call a hellhole. I’m lucky enough to not have to fork over my entire paycheck each month, but the discounted living situation means there are some cut corners. For example, we don’t pay the heating bill, but since our landlord controls it, we practically freeze to death in the subzero Minnesota winters. And the old wiring means that running more than one high-voltage appliance at a time causes our entire apartment to lose power. It’s lots of fun. It builds character. I think.

After living in this disaster of an apartment now for a year and a half, I’ve discovered some secrets to making it a touch less awful.

1. Know where your breaker box is.

One of the first phone calls I made to my landlord was “HELP! MY POWER WENT OUT WHEN I WAS MAKING MY SOY BURGERS!” This, it quickly became apparent, would be a continuous problem in our old building. I’m not quite sure why cooking anything for more than two minutes shuts off all power, but it is something I always prepare for whenever I hit COOK. I grab my cellphone, put on my flip flops, and wait. If the lights go off, I turn on the iPhone flashlight, curse a bit about living in a low-budget horror film, and walk down the hall to flip the switches. Thankfully, the breaker box is on my floor, but I’m a little more familiar with the electrical room than I’d like to be. I even had to reset the power in the laundry room once. You’ll be much happier if you know where to go when the old wiring in your miserable apartment picks on you for eating too many Morning Star burgers.

2. Learn to use natural ingredients to unclog your drains.

The pipes in this apartment are old. I’m fairly certain they have never been replaced. And it is usually once a month I find myself standing in the shower (under a fine mist some call “extremely poor water pressure”) ankle-deep in soapy water. Which is always surprising, because the tiny gutter stream from my shower head could never fill the tub that quickly. For a while I bought Drain-O and called my landlord every time it happened. Now I’ve discovered the wonderful secret of vinegar and baking soda, from the lovely Crunchy Betty. First, pour a pot of boiling water down the drain, to begin to dislodge any gunk. Then dump a 1/2 cup of baking soda down that bad boy. Let it sit a bit. Follow up with mix of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup hot hot water. Let it sit for a bit more (5-10 minutes). Pour another pot of boiling water down that drain, and voila! Clear drain with no trip to Target.

3. Invest in equipment to help regulate temperatures.

Old apartments are notoriously terrible at maintaining temperatures. In the winter, those darling original windows (which gave it so much character!) will leak in cold air like body odor at the crowded state fair. If you’re lucky enough to control your own temperature, consider taking the super nerdy route and sealing your windows with plastic come cold weather. Your friends may laugh at you, but at least you’ll stay warm and have a cheaper heating bill. If you can’t control your thermostat, it might be time to break down and get a space heater. Sure, you’ll have a pretty high electric bill, but at least it doesn’t feel like you’re crawling out of your grave when you wake up in the morning. I invested in a smart space heater with a shut-off timer, so it runs for a few hours before turning off once I’m asleep.

There is likely no such thing as AC in your old apartment, and if you’re trying to stay cheap, box fans are the best investment. I found mine for around $10-$15 at Target. If you just can’t stand the heat, window air conditioning units are worth exploring. Keep in mind, like a space heater, this bad boy sucks up energy. Consider getting one with a timer.

4. Sign up to track you deliveries.

Maybe you’re luckier than I am, and this secret doesn’t apply to you. But the doorbell for our apartment has never worked (something we probably should have looked into before signing the lease). Since moving in, my Amazon Prime account has become all-but-useless. Ordering things online is now a hassle, from miscommunication via door tags to driving twenty minutes to pick up packages they couldn’t leave at the door to having packages stolen—the doorbell fiasco is a mess. But over the course of these mishaps I’ve discovered that both FedEx and UPS offer free delivery notifications if something is coming your way. With UPS My Choice and FedEx personal tracking you can receive text messages or emails when packages are headed to you (for free!). You can also put your account on vacation holds, and set up instructions for where drivers should leave a package. It might not make up for the $79 that Amazon Prime costs, but at least it’ll make deliveries a little less stressful.

5. Roll with the punches.

It’s unavoidable—something absolutely ludicrous will happen to you in your terrible apartment. You’ll find five millipedes on your bathroom floor one morning, accidentally break your single pane glass window while trying to kill a box elder bug, discover the joys of having to change ceiling fan lights for the first time at night. The power will go out for no reason, maybe they’ll even shut off your water. Whatever happens, keep in mind that it isn’t the end of the world. It may feel like it, as your stare at the shards of glass now spread out across your pillows and comforter, but it’s not. Ridiculous things will happen, and they are not a reflection of you, or your day, or your choices, or your lifestyle. They just happen sometimes. So grab your keys, and head out for a walk. The millipedes will probably crawl back into the drain by the time you get back.